Alex Berg | Sports Writer | 01/26/2011
The Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan visited Bemidji High School on January 19.
The caravan is a three week long event in which select members of the Minnesota Twins travel around Minnesota and surrounding states to greet its fans.
Bemidji was visited by all-star relief pitcher Matt Capps, starting pitcher Brian Duensing, broadcaster Dick Bremer and the team mascot, T.C. Bear.
Bremer was a caravan veteran, while Duensing and Capps were experiencing their first winter caravan. Capps, the Georgia native, enjoyed the caravan experience, but not the cold weather.
“I’m freezing,” Capps said of the weather. “I am freezing my tail off.”
The players also came to the BSU baseball practice the same afternoon, and Duensing even played racquetball with a couple lucky students at the Rec. Center.
Capps, who was acquired in a trade from the Washington Nationals last July, just signed a one-year, $7.15 million contract with the club on January 18.
“It feels awesome,” said Capps, “just to get the business side of it out of the way before spring training starts. Now, I get to focus all on baseball things before we head down to Florida.”
Capps experienced his first postseason last October with the Twins, after spending five years on losing ball clubs in the National League. His experience was a short-lived one, however. The Twins were swept in three games by the New York Yankees, for the second consecutive year.
“It was a great experience for me,” said Capps. “I came into a great situation. The guys, the city and the organization all welcomed me with such a great fashion. We played great baseball up until the end of last season and just ran into that chainsaw known as the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.”
Capps was not the only Twins pitcher to re-sign with the team this week. Carl Pavano agreed to a two-year deal worth $16.5 million on January 19.
“Carl Pavano has meant an awful lot to the team in the last year and a half,” said Bremer. “They probably do not get to the playoffs in 2009 without him, they probably do not get to the playoffs in 2010 without him either. Beyond the 17 wins he got last year, he meant an awful lot to this team as well as the other pitchers. It is just a great signing for the Twins.”
Bremer was not the only one who applauded the move to bring back Pavano, fellow starting pitcher Duensing agreed.
“He brings a huge veteran presence to the rotation,” Duensing said with a smile. “He is great in the film room, always learning more about other teams. He is a really great teacher as well, he is willing to relay all of that information to us with ease. If it ever gets a little too serious, he is always the first to crack a joke about himself or someone else. He teaches us to keep it light.”
The pitching staff was not the only part of the team that has seen key members been brought back this week; Jim Thome re-signed with the Twins this past weekend.
“It is tremendous for the players,” said Bremer, “because of the production that he was able to provide in the line-up. He has become a very popular player for the Twins fans, they really enjoyed having his presence in the line-up or even on the bench, pinch-hitting late in the ballgame.”
Although the Twins were able to bring back Capps, Pavano and Thome, they were unable to retain key members of its bullpen. They have seen four key members of its bullpen go to other teams in free agency.
“One thing about the Twins is that they always find a way to go out and get somebody or someone comes up from the minors and steps up,” said Capps. “This year is kind of unique, we have a guy named Joe Nathan coming back, that in itself is like a big signing or a big blockbuster trade. I think we will be just fine down in the bullpen this year.”
Duensing was a former member in that bullpen last season, until being promoted into the starting rotation.
“I was a starter my whole life growing up, in high school and college,” said Duensing. “I liked getting back into my routine as a starter, it is a lot easier for me mentally to prepare for a game that way.”
The caravan members spoke to, signed autographs for and even took some questions from the large crowd of fans at the high school.
“We can just sense an eagerness that the Twins are very popular in this region, now maybe more popular than they’ve ever been,” said Bremer. “We are closer now to the next season than we are to the end of the last one. We are over the hump and baseball is right around the corner.”
Once this cold winter is over, the Twins will begin their season on April 1, when they travel to Toronto to play the Blue Jays.